“The Facts Behind the Helsinki Roccamatios” by Yann Martel

The Facts Behind the Helsinki Roccamatios is the first collection of rather long short stories by the Man Booker Prize winner Yann Martel. Republished by Canongate Books in 2004, it offers some the most endearing, intelligent, and profound fictional moments.

The first story, which lends its title to the collection, tells about the struggle of a man dying of AIDS, and his friend whose enduring love and empathy soothe his death anguish. They engage in an extremely witty, and amusing story telling about imaginary Immigrants in Helsinki, Finland, covering most important historical events of the Twentieth century. The story creates a perfect balance between short moments of a man’s decay, moments of pure passion, anguish, love, and pain, and snippets of major historical events that have marked the Twentieth century. By the end, it is hard to tell whether I love the history because of the immense intimacy between the two friends, or perhaps I follow the excruciating journey of the men because of the amusing comments on historical facts. What I mean is that Martel combines what could be said to be two distinct genres of writing into a perfect hybrid. He infuses history with intimacy and at the same time historicizes intimacy in the best sense of that Marxist term.

The next story worth delving in is “Manners of Dying” which basically retells one and the same execution in hundreds of different versions (the reader only gets selected ones, such as 760, or 985), all written by the executioner. This is a brilliant, heartbreaking, but also extremely funny piece.

Read Martel’s “How I wrote Life of Pi. Hear Martel speak about religion in an interview with Randal Mark. Find it on YouTube in three parts: 1, 2, 3.

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